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Milford boy inspires team, community

By Cynthia Kimball Humphreys

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 22 2010 6:56 p.m. MDT

Jed Wunderlich stands on the pitching mound for the very first time at the All South Cal Ripkin State Tournament in Panguitch last Thursday, where he struck out three batters.

Wunderlich Family

MILFORD, Beaver County — Jed Wunderlich's positive attitude is probably why he wasn't cut from Milford's All South Cal Ripkin summer all-star baseball team even though he'd never been on a team before.

And perhaps it was why coach Jacob Ihde, after noticing the 11-year-old seemed down after sitting on the bench for the first four innings of a recent game, asked him if he wanted to pitch. There was just one small problem. Jed had never pitched before.

For a split second, Jed looked at his coach in disbelief. Then he bolted to the mound as though he knew what he was doing.

"I was afraid for him," said Jed's mother, Trish Wunderlich. "But I trusted the coaches knew what they were doing."

Three strikeouts later, Jed was flying high, smiling incessantly.

The crowd went wild standing and cheering on their feet, moved to tears.

"I just bawled," said Milford coach Gary Mayer.

Even umpire Merlin Figgins took off his mask to wipe away tears.

Trish Wunderlich couldn't contain herself. After all, she'd seen her boy in pain and held him so many times when it was unbearable — especially in 2006 when he had what she calls "the big surgery" at Primary Children's Medical Center where he had his whole face moved forward. An incision was made from ear to ear, skull bone was cut then made bigger and eventually put back together again in an 11-hour surgery.

A mid-face distracter was inserted behind his right ear that Jed's parents would have to turn twice daily to help his skull grow. The pain was excruciating for Jed and for his parents, who not only had to turn the distracter, but also had to watch and hear Jed scream and cry out in agony.

Jed was born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and had undergone 60 surgeries by the time he turned 11, the first when he was just 8 months old after his parents wondered why his head was so large at 2 weeks old. By age 7, he would be diagnosed with Crusins Syndrome, a genetic disorder characteristic of swelling on the brain. Most of his many surgeries were shunt surgeries, where fluid is drained from the brain. The Wunderliches know Primary Children's Medical Center all too well, often staying there with Jed for 30 days at a time.

Even so, when his mother asks him, "How come you smile so much?" He simply and matter-of-factly replies, "Because I'm happy."

"He just draws people to him wherever he goes," she said.

"I've had a couple of complete strangers come up to us and say they get some kind of vibe off of him," added his father, Ryan Wunderlich. "They don't even know his name or circumstances."

"How did you feel when you where pitching?" Trish Wunderlich later asked her son.

"Excited and happy," is all he said.

"None of his teammates say, 'Why are you putting Jed in?' " said grandmother Susan Nettle proudly.

Milford Elementary School Principal Ben Dalton, who has known Jed for five years, spoke of how Jed was in and out of school for several years, but worked hard to keep up with his studies, never complaining, so that he kept on track with his class.

"He never asks to be treated differently," he said.

"The other kids in school really like him. He has a lot of friends. He looks out for them, and they look out for him even though Jed's been described as socially backward, uncoordinated and quite shy," Trish Wunderlich said. "In addition, he's been self-conscious of his surgeries and the medical equipment."

When asked how he likes playing on the baseball team, Jed said, "I'm having a lot of fun," unaware of the positive impact he has on others.

"He's always smiling, always happy, always pumped up," Ihde said. "There aren't even words to describe what he means to our team. We appreciate what he does. … It makes us closer."

Asked to describe Jed in one word, 12-year-old teammate Garreth Mayer quickly replied, "Inspirational. We're happy he's on our team. He's the heart of our team."

"There's a lot more to coaching young kids than wins and losses," said tournament director Greg Excel.

And with determination and opportunity, anything is possible.

Even three strikeouts from a boy who never pitched a day in his life.

e-mail: kimball@every1counts.net

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